THE CIVIL WAR: A MODERN WAR

Virginia Museum of History & Culture
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This development changed the nature of combat, emphasizing the importance of heavy fortifications and elaborate trenches and giving those on the defensive—usually Southern armies—an immense advantage over attacking forces. The rifle produced the appalling casualty statistics of Civil War battles.

Civil War Technology

At Gettysburg, there were nearly fifty thousand dead, wounded, and missing. Total wartime casualties numbered well over one million, in an American population of around thirty-two million. The Civil War began as a conventional contest of army versus army but by the end had become a war of society against society, with slavery, the foundation of the southern social order, becoming a target. Certainly, the Union overshadowed the Confederacy in manpower and economic resources.

But the Union also had a far greater task. It had to conquer an area as large as western Europe, while the Confederacy, like the American patriots during the War of Independence, could lose battle after battle and still win the war, if their opponents tired of the conflict. Thus, political leadership was crucial to victory, and Lincoln proved far more successful than his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis, in mobilizing public sentiment.

One historian has suggested that if the North and South had exchanged presidents, the South would have won the war. Northern victory consolidated the American Union. In this sense, the Civil War forms part of the nineteenth-century process of nation-building. It was conceived as neither the reclamation of ancestral lands nor the institutional embodiment of a common ancestry, language, or culture. Rather, as Lincoln himself insisted, the nation was the incarnation of a universal set of ideas, centered on political democracy and human liberty.

The Civil War

These principles, of course, had been enunciated by the Founding Fathers, but only with the destruction of slavery could the United States seriously claim to represent to the world the idea of human liberty. It is easy to forget how decentralized the United States was in , and how limited were the powers of the federal government.

There was no national banking system, no national railroad gauge, no national tax system, not even reliable maps of the areas where the war would take place. The army in numbered 14, men, the federal budget was minuscule, and nearly all functions of government were handled at the state and local level.

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The Civil War created the modern national state in America. Whether the war retarded or encouraged economic growth in the short run remains a point of debate among historians. But the economic policies of the Union forged a long-lasting alliance between the Republican Party, the national state, and the emerging class of industrial capitalists. Slavery lay at the root of the political crisis that produced the Civil War, and the war became, although it did not begin as, a struggle for emancipation.

Union victory eradicated slavery from American life. Yet the war left it to future generations to confront the numerous legacies of slavery and to embark on the unfinished quest for racial justice. The destruction of slavery—by presidential proclamation, legislation, and constitutional amendment—was a key act in the nation-building process.

A war begun to preserve the old Union without threatening slavery produced one of the greatest social revolutions of the nineteenth century. The old image of Lincoln single-handedly abolishing slavery with the stroke of his pen has long been abandoned, for too many other Americans—politicians, reformers, soldiers, and slaves themselves—contributed to the coming of emancipation. In , with military success elusive, Radical Republicans in Congress and abolitionists clamoring for action against slavery, and slaves by the thousands fleeing the plantations wherever the Union Army appeared, Lincoln concluded that his initial policy of fighting a war solely to preserve the Union had to change.

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, , profoundly altered the nature of the war and the future course of American history.

It was the Proclamation, moreover, more than any other single wartime event, that transformed a war of armies into a conflict of societies. Although it freed few slaves on the day it was issued, as it applied almost exclusively to areas under Confederate control, the Emancipation Proclamation ensured that Union victory would produce a social revolution within the South and a redefinition of the place of blacks in American life.

There could now be no going back to the prewar Union. A new system of labor, politics, and race relations would have to replace the shattered institution of slavery. Before the Civil War, the definition of those entitled to enjoy the "blessings of liberty" protected by the Constitution was increasingly defined by race. Taney declared that no black person could be a citizen of the United States.

Comparing the Civil War and Modern Soldier

A recent study by Lisa Frank of the relationship between his soldiers and Southern women excoriates the soldiers for entering bedrooms and parlors, as well as seizing personal treasures and letters, in an effort to humiliate and demoralize elite white women along their route. There is no mention of rape or murder. They burned barns, silos, crops, and some houses; they stripped the valley of livestock and foodstuffs that had been used to support Confederate troops throughout the war. There was no program to kill civilians, and, at most, only a few of them died. Once for all, it may be said that this excuse excludes every sentiment of humanity in war, and may be logically carried to the last extremity of savage warfare.

After this, however, I regarded it as humane to both sides to protect the persons of those found at their homes, but to consume everything that could be used to support or supply armies. Their destruction was accomplished without bloodshed and tended to the same result as the destruction of armies. Promiscuous pillaging, however, was discouraged and punished. Lincoln rejected appeals for emancipation for more than a year into the war.

He made several offers of compensated emancipation to the Border States—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri—to secure their continued allegiance to the Union. When the need for more Union soldiers and the need to deplete the labor force of the South outweighed the Border State concerns, the president issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September and his final proclamation on January 1, War is not pretty, but claims that the Union waged total war are far from the mark.

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Would you like to learn the complete history of the Civil War? By Edward Hagerman. Most Civil War military history, like most military history in general, consists of narrative-analyses of campaigns and battles as seen through the eyes, so to speak, ofthe contending commanders. It takes what the author calls an "organizational" approach and focuses on how and why the Civil War was conducted the way it was rather than on what happened as such. One might say that instead of the traditional eagle's view, with its emphasis on the subjective and dramatic, it offers a mule's perspective on the Civil War, in which the objective and mundane are the center of attention.

Civil War Technology

Hagerman, however, begins with the theoretical as he examines the nature ofAmerican military thought prior to He finds it ambivalent. On the one hand it extolled the Napoleonic pursuit ofquick, decisive victory by means ofthe tactical offensive; on the other hand it stressed, notably in the writings of Dennis Hart Mahan, the value of the tactical defense based on field fortifications. Moreover, reflecting its prime source, Jomini, it suffered from a "mechanistic" divorce of organization from strategy.

For these reasons, and also because oftheir ambiguous experience in the Mexican War, the generals of the North and South were inadequately prepared intellectually to fight the sort of war they had to fight in actuality.

Hagerman then proceeds to devote the rest of his book which derives in substantial part from his Duke University dissertation, "The Evolution of Trench Warfare in the American Civil War," and large portions of which have been previously published in essentially the same form in this and otherjournals to demonstrating how Civil War armies coped with the challenges they encountered after April 12, 1 86 1—challenges that were unprecedented , unanticipated, and which arose from the technological, ideological , organizational, geographical, and social conditions of midnineteenth -century America.